The Americans are the defending gold medal winners in men’s basketball entering the 2012 Summer Olympics in London later this month and bookmakers expect them to repeat, sending the Americans off as 1-7 favorites to claim the gold. Team USA rolled through the competition in Beijing, without a competitive contest until the gold medal tilt with Spain, which saw them within four points with less than three minutes to play before succumbing 118-107.
With that said, is there any competition that could stall Team USA’s run at a second consecutive gold medal and fifth in six Olympic Games since the advent of the original “Dream Team” in 1992? Let’s take a look at some of the potential contenders.
Spain: If you’re looking for a squad that can challenge the Americans, look no further than the team that gave the USA team all they could handle in Beijing four years ago. Spain can do some damage on the inside, where the Americans are thin with only Tyson Chandler a true center. They have both Gasol brothers, Marc and Pau, along with Serge Ibaka, who is an effective presence on the defensive end with an improving offensive skill set as well. Ibaka didn’t play in the Beijing Olympics but will log heavy minutes in the Spanish frontcourt.
Spain is coming off a European championship in 2011, their second in three years. Rudy Fernandez is capable of scoring from the small forward slot and can shoot from the perimeter and Jose Calderon is a talented point guard that is comfortable running the offense. Spain has the second best odds to win gold in London, going off at 11-2.
France: The French finished second in the European championships in 2011 and are ready for the Olympics. The French will be led by point guard Tony Parker, who has recovered from an eye injury sustained after the Spurs were defeated in the Western Conference Finals by the Oklahoma City Thunder. France has NBA players Kevin Seraphin and Boris Diaw on the roster as well. The French will be hurt by the absence of Joakim Noah, who is not ready to play after injuring himself during the Bulls’ first round playoff loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. They’re a longer shot at best and clearly not in the class of the U.S. or Spain.
Argentina: Argentina won the gold medal in 2004 and claimed the bronze in 2008 but is considered to be on the outside looking in when it comes to gold medal contention in 2012. The team still has shooting guard Manu Ginobili and power forward Luis Scola but outside of them there is little name recognition for fans of the NBA. Argentina is ranked third in the FIBA World rankings, but it’s hard to see them pulling an upset.
Lithuania: A dark horse in the mix would be Lithuania. The country won three bronze medals from 1992 to 2000 and still has some talented players in the mix. Šarūnas Jasikevičius has international and NBA experience. He is a grizzled veteran that will add leadership to the squad while Jonas Valančiūnas gives them an inside presence. Valančiūnas was the fifth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Raptors and will get his first taste of what dealing with NBA superstars will be like. Linas Kleiza is a talented big man who is capable of scoring inside and outside. This is a team that may surprise all of us.
Which country do you think has the best chance at winning the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics?